It’s all about Top Management

How can you tell if your project is likely to succeed and the change your organisation so desperately needs will probably embed?

Since John Kotter (Leading Change) reported a survey in the 1990s showing that Change Projects need 75% or more of top management behind them to have any real chance of success, I have had a quantitative result on which to hook my beliefs, based on experience and anecdote, that it is all down to top management.

In particular, it is how well your sponsor, boss, client or SRO really engages with your project.  If they are not one hundred percent behind you, then you have to ask “why am I doing this?”  After all, what does “sponsor” mean?  My old pocket OED says a sponsor is a person who makes themself responsible for something.  So they have to want it, on behalf of their organisation and they must therefore work hard for it.

Recently in the UK public sector, the Office for Government Commerce (OGC) has criticised some Government departments for putting in place “puppet” Senior Responsible Officers (puppet is my term) who fulfil the SRO role, but in truth are answerable to a higher tier.  OGC’s mandatory Prject Management methodology, PRINCE2 makes it clear that the R in SRO does mean “responsible”.

As if to further endorse their point, in a joint publication with the National Audit Office (NAO), OGC identify this as the second of eight “Common Causes of Project Failure“.

And now comes a new report.  I am grateful for a recent Twitter by PM Student for alerting me to an article listing 12 behaviours that tend to scupper Agile Developments.  It reports a conference talk by Jean Tabaka and, whilst Agile Development is not my thing, many of these behaviours are common in a wide range of projects – an will scupper them equally easily.

And what are behaviours 1 and 2?  I quote directly:

“The first problem was when management simply got out their chequebook and told IT to “do it”, rather than fully engaging with the process, and recognising the deep structural and organisational changes that Agile demands. This was compounded if the enterprise had a culture which did not support and embrace change.”

The “so what?”

Ask your boss, sponsor, client or SRO: “so what?” – find out how important the project or change is to them, impress on them the need for active support, if you don’t get it, ask yourself: “is this really a project that’s going somewhere?”


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